Faith as a Noun and a Verb (History of the Bible, part 13)

What do you think of when you hear the word, faith? Does it sound like what crazy people claim to back up their belief in God? Blind faith? A leap of faith? Kind of sounds like jumping off a cliff and hoping someone catches you, right?

Faith is characterized in many different ways in Scripture, but they make a cohesive picture of what our faith should look like.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

This word, substance, or hypostasis, is bursting with philosophical meaning. Substance is probably the most difficult philosophical word that is used and is regularly the point of disagreement between very intelligent people. In short, substance means, “that which stands under” something else, making it what it is. So faith is that which stands under our hope. How awesome is that?

Faith is our foundation.

Hypostasis is used in defending the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. It was the violation of the substance of Christ, either that He is not fully God or not fully Man. Both Arius and the Gnostics violated the “substance” of Christ. The Fathers of the Church took great pains to protect the doctrine of the Incarnation. Anyway! Faith is not blind. Think about it like this. You have heard the expression “a leap of faith” right? Well, in the context of Hebrews 11, faith is not our leaping but what we actually land on. Faith is what holds us up after we jump. God asks us to jump on faith and promises to catch us. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen! Abraham is the perfect example of this kind of faith, and the author of Hebrews uses him as a prime example. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” Abraham’s faith in God led him to leave his home. He didn’t know where he would end up, but he went willingly. God rewarded him for his faith.

Faith is action.

Hebrews is not the only book that talks about Abraham’s remarkable faith. Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6, and James 2:23 say, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” A lot of people, non-Christians and Christians alike, have trouble with faith. In my first paper at college, I decided to write about faith for my New Testament class. Of course, I always choose very personal topics for my paper writing. I wanted to know the definition of faith and how it is to be worked out in the life of a Christian. I found that faith is not only a noun (as we discussed earlier) but also a verb. The noun form of faith is pistis; the verb form is pisteuein. Pisteuein means to believe. What are we to do with this belief? Hang it up on our wall and notice how delightful it is? Occasionally call other people over to notice it?

No. This is not what faith is meant for. Let me paint you a picture.

Imagine that you are in a car on an interstate. What do cars need to be properly functioning vehicles of transportation? They need an engine with all of the necessary parts (sorry, I’m not a mechanic). They need a frame to hold the engine. They need wheels to roll when propelled by the thrust of the engine. They need a driver. They need a surface to drive on. They need fuel to make the engine fire. They need a cooling system so as to not over heat. They need an exhaust pipe to let out the toxic fumes.

Now, I know you are wondering why I just gave a semi-detailed description of a car…Let’s imagine that we are driving that car, but this is not a real car. This car is only propelled forward by our faith. Belief is the fuel that we put in the engine, and the direct product of that belief is action. The car begins to roll forward. Some people have all kinds of beliefs that they never put into action. A lot of Christians are just sitting at the gas station pumping fuel onto the ground. They go to church. They listen, and they believe! Those beliefs just have no impact on their actions. This is what we call “nominal Christianity.” Belief without faith. Having a tank full of gas, but never putting a foot to the petal.

James says, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” James 2:14-26

 

Wow. I don’t know about you, but this slaps me in the face every time I read it. How many times do we act this way? I know that I talk about some deep stuff, and I try to point out weaknesses that I see. But, I do not have my life together either. No one does, and that is okay! It is in our imperfection that we see God’s perfection. “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” 1 Corinthians 1:27

In no respect does God expect us to be perfect or to somehow work enough to earn our salvation. He does, however, expect our faith to produce good works. This is the natural side effect of faith. It cannot be contained! Just like our little car needs fuel to move forward, we must maintain our core beliefs. Everything is interconnected and reliant upon the other parts to function properly.

Abraham displayed his faith by moving to Canaan when God told him and being willing to kill Isaac as a sacrifice. We know that Abraham had faith because it was evident in the way he lived. These “acts of faith” or “good works” were not what saved him or made him righteous. But we know that he had the necessary faith because of his works.

 

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10

 

Next week, I will take a look at those core beliefs as seen in the Nicene Creed. We are almost done with the History of the Bible! Until next time!

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6 thoughts on “Faith as a Noun and a Verb (History of the Bible, part 13)

  1. Actually, yes, the first definition that comes to mind is people irrationally believing something they can’t prove and so should rationally not place their trust in. But then you get into the argument as to whether God can be proven…

    Having been raised in a perfectionist denomination I am quite familiar with the passages in James and reminded that Martin Luther thought they were such a road-block to people understanding that faith alone saves us that he wished they were never included in the canon (or something like that). Of course, my former denomination always used this passage against the teaching that you could repent then go and live like the devil and you were ok, simply because you believe at some point Jesus is the sacrifice for your sins. When I was taking a class with Dr. C. on Christian Theology it really surprised me when, as a Baptist, he said this was a heresy. I had been taught all my life that Baptists and other denominations believed this and “Christianity” was over-flowing with horrible wicked people as a result. Then I slowly began to realize that some believe this, but more conservative individuals and denominations understand that if you don’t have works following, it does indicate which side of the fence your on: belief or unbelief. Maybe it doesn’t have to be as radical as the perfectionists hold – absolutely no sin, otherwise you have no faith – but I’m kind of thinking at this point that we can believe God exists, we can believe Jesus is the sacrifice for our sins, but if we don’t identify strongly with God’s attributes/characteristics of goodness, kindness, mercy, righteousness, love, fairness, etc. maybe we don’t believe in him as much as we think we do. Just something I’ve been tossing around in my head and still mulling over.

    1. Good thoughts! Im really curious about your church experiences. I learned some similar things growing up. Works are futile, no one can possibly be good enough, etc. But! If we aren’t trying to be as Christlike as possible, can we even count ourselves as Christians?

      1. My church experience was not a very happy one, it was psychologically and mentally traumatizing, but I don’t mind talking about it. Just want to forewarn everyone that unless you’ve been a member at this type of church its difficult to understand the anger and negativity that those who were once members express. If you want to know specifics, by all means ask away 🙂

        “If we aren’t trying to be as Christlike as possible, can we even count ourselves as Christians?”
        >>>A very good question. I’m not sure I’m a perfectionists anymore, but I know from this experience that Christians can live better than they do. But then I was in an environment where the most strenuous peer pressure and desire to be accepted by the pastor pushed everyone to walk the line – at least in public view. With full freedom I think Christians will make the wrong choices from time to time, but, similar to what you said, if we *really* believe in peace, love and so on (characteristics of God and Christ) won’t we generally live out these concepts? Isn’t that the very definition of Christian: to be a *follower* of Christ? Doesn’t that involve some sacrifice and hardship not just some cushy blessed life where we act like we want and still hold a ticket to Paradise? I encourage everyone, if you haven’t already, to read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “The Cost of Discipleship” – at least the first few chapters. Its a very powerful , heart-piercing entreaty for us to be disciples of Christ, not just “believers”. Bonhoeffer says that, similar to Abram, “the response of the disciples [to the call “Follow me”] is an act of obedience, not a confession of faith in Jesus.”

        “The only man who has the right to say that he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ. Such a man knows that the call to discipleship is a gift of grace, and that the call is inseparable from the grace.”

        “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ. It remains an abstract idea, a myth which has a place for the Fatherhood of God, but omits Christ as the Living Son. And a Christianity of that kind is nothing more or less than the end of discipleship. In such a religion there is trust in God, but no following of Christ…the only true relation we can have with him is to follow him.”

  2. You made a fantastic point by saying that good works are the natural side effect of faith. This applies to generally obeying God’s will. I heard once that the 10 commandments (and all christian teachings) are not a to-do list, but a kind of spiritual drug anti-prescription: if you don’t wish to kill, steal, etc you are spiritually healthy. If you do you are sick, and if you try not to you are at least treating your sickness.
    A good synonym for “nominal christianity” is practical atheism:)

    By the way, when you google “commandments” the third and fourth most popular search keywords are about the commandments of Lavey’s satanism – worried yet?

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